Friday, September 24, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: The Ballad of Queenie and Skeeter

Champion Victoria of India Star was a purebred Pembroke Welsh Corgi with an impeccable pedigree. One of her grandmothers won Best of Breed at Crufts and a littermate took the group at Westminster.

Ch. Victoria (known to all as Queenie) was, in spite of her breeding, a dog of the people. Much to the dismay of her owners. Her owners had no such pedigree, just the pretention.

Mr. and Mrs. Donald Wright were two of the biggest snobs on the planet. They were British and you’d think they’d invented the concept. They weren’t Lord and Lady Wright. They weren’t titled. But they acted like it. They were known about Silver Creek as “the always Wrights.”

They drove a succession of wildly unsuitable Jaguars that they insisted you pronounce in the English way of jag-you-are. They name-dropped English institutions with hilarious regularity. The finals at Wimbledon. Royal watching at Ascot. Phrases like “in my Oxford days” and “you can’t get real marmalade here can you” would be greeted with varying degrees of patience amusement or eye rolls.

Their greatest wish was to make others feel inferior, but they never once succeeded. And Queenie was no help in this matter.

Anyone who was unlucky enough to get stopped long enough heard all about Ch. Victoria of India Star. Her breeder had sold corgis to a “someone high up in the English royal family” but of course they couldn’t say whom. Queenie herself had won several Best of Shows and could have gone to Westminster, if the Wrights had been so inclined. But they showed her only until she got her Champion status and then retired her. Their intention was to breed her, but before they could, fate intervened.

Fate in the guise of a sweet but ugly mutt named Skeeter.

Skeeter was sort of a dirty water brown and looked as if he’d been put together by a committee. Eddie Collins, who lived next door to the Wrights, adopted him from a local shelter because; as he explained “something that ugly has to have some redeeming qualities.” And he was right. Skeeter was loyal, loving, and smart. He knew dozens of tricks and was devoted to his owner. Every kid in town knew and loved Skeeter. Eddie would keep his pockets full of dog treats and whenever a kid came by he’d hand over a few snacks so we could all feed Skeeter and get lots of lovely dog licks all over our faces.

Eddie couldn’t have been more different than his neighbors. He was a Marine. (Of course he was a Marine in WWII but I remember him saying there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine.) He was friendly to everyone and seemed to be on a first name basis with the entire town. He was a hard working plumber and proud of it. And he no pretentions at all. He loved a cold beer at the end of the day. Loved Monday Night Football. Loved Maybelle Reiter, who owned the Sunny Day Hair Salon. (And she loved him back.)

And loved sitting on the lawn, endlessly throwing the ball for Skeeter. Which is how the trouble started.

Champion Victoria of India Star should have been the pampered diva princess of her parent’s dreams. Instead, she liked nothing better than to roll in something deliciously stinky. She liked to knock over garbage cans and see if there was anything to eat inside. And she loved to burrow under the fence between the two yards and chase balls with Skeeter.

Skeeter was the love of her life. Her warm brown eyes positively glowed when his ugly shape ambled out into the yard. They would great each other rapturously, eagerly butt-sniffing and alternately rolling around and nosing each other.

And Eddie, well aware that Queenie was on the lam, would nevertheless make sure he threw the ball for her too. In his opinion, Queenie was a deprived animal. No ball chasing. No running in the sprinklers on a hot day. No getting dirty and being hosed off in the front yard.

Queenie was on a strict diet of homemade dog food and holistic treats. So of course she went nuts when Eddie shared his beef jerky and cheese puffs with her.

Usually Eddie was good about lifting Queenie back over the fence before the always Wrights knew she was gone. But one time Donald Wright came looking for her and nearly had a stroke. There was his Queenie, his Champion, eating cheese puffs and getting artificial orange dust all over her muzzle. Worse, she was sitting next to that….that mutt as if they were equals!

There was what Mr. Wright would have called “a scene” and Eddie called a “freak out.” Mr. Wright shouting, climbing over the fence to retrieve his precious girl and take her away from such ruffians. Eddie laughing and telling the man to calm down. Mr. Wright making vague mentions of the police. Eddie making distinct mentions of various places where Mr. Wright could put his police.

For a few days afterwards, Queenie was not left in the yard. She was taken for nice, decorous walks on her nice, decorous leash. The Wrights were careful to always turn her right down the block, away from Eddie’s place. And Skeeter, ever the romantic, would run hopefully along the fence line, no doubt calling to her in his best doggy Don Juan way.

And, as love will, it prevailed. One muggy summer night when the Wrights were watching Masterpiece Theatre (“My dear, the only thing worth watching on American telly!”) Queenie nosed open the screen door and made her escape. Within minutes she had bellied under the fence and was reunited with her Skeeter.

Later, when Queenie was safely delivered of a litter of scraggy dogs with short Corgi legs. The Wrights decided that she wasn’t the dog for them. We always wondered whether they sold or gave her to Eddie, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that Queenie and Skeeter were together.

And from them on, we kids had two dogs to give treats to.
Photo of the day: Lucky

This is Lucky. She redefines adorable.
Photo of the day: The Condo of Love

This is a band of 3 and 4 month old kittens that like nothing better than to sleep in a pile. Every time I walk by their cage they are curled around each other like furry yin and yangs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Planet

My mother's mind is now another planet. And sometimes that planet goes out of orbit.

Dementia is a horrible process. I went through it with my best friend. He had AIDS-related dementia. The day I walked in and he had no idea who I was, I felt little bits of my heart break inside of me.

Mom has senior dementia. At times it just manifests itself as having absolutely no memory. At times it's worse. Last weekend she took me on a tour of the home I grew up in because she thought I'd never been there before. She also talked about her kids like I wasn't one of them.

Saturday night the switch flipped and she turned aggressive, paranoid, and violent. I wasn't there. My poor nephew and his girlfriend were on grandma watch and went from being fine to asking who they were and what they were doing in her home. She accused them of trying to rob her. She said she hated them. She threw things. Worried she might hurt herself or someone else, they called 911. That made it worse. My mother, my nice mild-mannered mother, bit a cop. (Somehow I always thought if a mom bit a cop it would be Husband's mother. The ex-hippie and still political activist. I can see her biting a cop as he tries to drag her away from a protest.) But my mom? Nope. Too much a scaredy cat to cross authority.

Apparently it took a cop and two EMTs to get her to the ambulance. And once at the hospital she calmed down a bit and then went off again. She ripped out her IV and her ID tag and yelled at the nurses. They sedated her and she was able to go home a few hours later.

The siblings and I are working out when we can all meet up to have "the talk." We've come to realize she needs more care than she has now. My exceptional big sister lives with her, but I don't thinks it's just a matter of making sure she has company. She's getting worse. Unfortunately my mother's insurance doesn't cover in-home care. We've looked into care agencies and they charge $25 an hour. I'm not sure even with all of us chipping in we can afford that. Nobody wants to put her into senior care but we may have no choice.

It's tragic, because there are times when she's her. When she knows us. When she loves puttering around the home she's live in for close on 60 years. Where she was so happy with my father. And when she's her, she'll hate not being at home. She'll hate being someplace strange, surrounded by strange people. Of course we'll all visit and make sure she has as much family time as possible, but there will be times when her kids aren't there.

I am staying detached. Partly because I am and partly because I know from sad experience that in times like this, someone has to be. When I was Steve's primary caregiver I had to force myself to stay detached. If I let on how much it hurt, I wouldn't have been able to sign the papers to have him put into an AIDS hospice. So I put my feelings in a hurt locker and carried on.

This is easier. I've never felt exceptionally close to my mom, not like my siblings. I know it's much harder for them than for I. While they do what they can for mom, I'll do what I can for them. I'll go to the family conference, I'll give an opinion, I'll check my budget to see how much I can chip in for care. If necessary, I'll give up my volunteering and go back to work to be able to contribute more. But my job, as I see it now, is to whatever hard work I can. I'm OK with signing papers and being the one who makes the hard call. If my siblings will let me.

But they won't. Because to them I'll always be 9 years old. I will always be the baby of the family and incapable of being a responsible adult.

And for now we take care of mom as best we can. And hope her planet doesn't spin out of orbit while we're on duty.